I just saw the movie The Artist, and a delightful experience it was. It even started with a movie-within-the-movie called A Russian Affair that shows some written Russian (labels on a piece of electrical equipment). But this is not a movie review; I’m here to quibble about a bit of language usage. In a montage of clippings raving about another movie-within-the-movie, one of them reads “so fun.” Now, I realize that (as the American Heritage Dictionary says) “there is some evidence to suggest that [the use of fun as an attributive adjective, as in a fun time, a fun place] has 19th-century antecedents,” but as they also say, the usage only “became popular in the 1950s and 1960s,” and this use of “so fun” (rather than the standard “so much fun” or “such fun”) would have been impossible in edited text in 1929, when the movie is supposed to have come out. All that effort expended on (gorgeous) period furnishings and automobiles, and nobody noticed so glaring a linguistic anachronism! Fie, I say! (Don’t worry, I’m not terribly serious about this; it’s the most minor of blemishes, and was doubtless noticed only by codgers like me—I grew up using fun only as a noun, and the newer usage still sounds wrong to me—but I do think it’s worth pointing out.)


  1. rootlesscosmo says

    I loved the movie too, but Alex Ross
    is critical of the music score’s extensive borrowing of Bernard Herrmann’s “Vertigo” score. (Whether lifting the music from a 1958 movie also counts as an anachronism is a nice point.) I recognized it (I’ve seen “Vertigo” many times) but didn’t think about just what Best Original Score means until I read Ross’ comments.
    Still, I was hoping through the last scene that the director (in the story, not Michel Hazanavicius) would call out “Silence, please!” when the retake started, and I was very pleased when he did.

  2. Yes, but what about the punctuation in the intertitles?
    (In that blog post, Jonathan Poritsky mentions the allusions to “Vertigo” and “Citizen Kane” and says that “historicity is the last thing he [Hazanavicius] is trying to sell.”)

  3. David Denby has a more critical perspective on the film (which I share).
    I noticed a nonverbal anachronism in an early scene: when the ingenue Peppy is chosen for the chorus line, she does a triumphant fist pump–a gesture that arose in the sporting world and didn’t become widespread until the early 1990s.
    First citation for “fist pump” in OED is from 1981.

  4. Here‘s a direct link to Denby’s review, which I think is quite unfair. He blames it for not being a great silent movie like the great silent movies we all remember so fondly, which is absurd; it’s like blaming Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony for not actually being a Mozart symphony. And to use Louise Brooks as a stick to beat a modern actress with is doubly unfair; nobody is anything like Brooks. It’s “exuberant and playful,” as he acknowledges, and succeeds at what it’s trying to do; the kind of carping he does is downright ungrateful.
    I also find the kerfuffle over the use of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score overblown (especially Kim Novak’s calling it “rape”); they got the rights fair and square, and it’s used effectively. You can argue that they could more effectively have used something else, but I think shock/horror over using Herrmann’s sacred score is silly.
    The fist pump, however, is a fair cop, right up there with “so fun.”

  5. In one scene we see small words capitalized in the middle of a newspaper headline, which seemed sloppy and anachronistic to me. (I found the clip: under the all-cap headline “WHO’S THAT GIRL?” the deck is “That’s The Question On Everyone’s Lips, Who Indeed?”

  6. OT: I understand most spams that unfortunately plague LH from time to time, but can someone explain what the total gibberish ones are, such as the one I’m sure LH will remove shortly here ?

  7. I still have not seen the movie, shame on me, but all these comments make me think, that movie producers, along with hiring sound-, special-FX-, and other experts, should perhaps give a thought to hire a linguist and, why not, also a sort of “localizer” (for periods in history) to prevent all these faux-pas? Although it’s always possible, that these experts’ opinions notwithstanding, the director or editor of whoever is responsible for these things decides to do it otherwise, for expediency or whatever other reason. But it always is so nice discussing these things among us quibblers…Have a good week, everybody!

  8. rootlesscosmo says

    a sort of “localizer” (for periods in history)
    Some Hollywood studios used to do that. S.J. Perelman met an ex-officer of the Tsar’s army who had been brought to MGM to authenticate details of uniforms for some historical epic. The studio gave him an office and paid his salary every week but he couldn’t get a meeting with Thalberg on anybody on the production team, so he quit after several weeks, leaving behind a stiffly-worded note and a check refunding every nickel of his pay. The studio continued slipping checks under his office door for weeks thereafter.

  9. This stirred up a desire to try and date the borrowing of the word fun from English into Jèrriais. And the results (in the unlikely event that many people are interested), are here: No sign of adjectival use, though.

  10. “The Full Monty” also won Best Original Score for what was 90% all-time greatest dance hits. Elderly Academy members can’t be expected to work out which bits were Original and which Jukebox before voting.

  11. “Original Score”: Well, you can copyright sheet music of Bach works, from the year of printing, and I think the same goes for new arrangements of works that are out of copyright (or for which you have cleared the rights). So unless you straight up play an old record in a scene, I think that calling it an “Original Score” is consistent with the way copyright works, at least.

  12. a sort of “localizer” (for periods in history)

    Some Hollywood studios used to do that.

    Apparently HBO still does; Masha Gessen begins a harsh New Yorker review of its series “Chernobyl” with the following rave about the period setting:

    Before I get to what the series got so terribly wrong, I should acknowledge what it got right. In “Chernobyl,” which was created and written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, the material culture of the Soviet Union is reproduced with an accuracy that has never before been seen in Western television or film—or, for that matter, in Russian television or film. Clothes, objects, and light itself seem to come straight out of nineteen-eighties Ukraine, Belarus, and Moscow. (There are tiny errors, like a holiday uniform worn by schoolchildren on a non-holiday, or teen-agers carrying little kids’ school bags, but this is truly splitting hairs.) Soviet-born Americans—and, indeed, Soviet-born Russians—have been tweeting and blogging in awe at the uncanny precision with which the physical surroundings of Soviet people have been reproduced.

    Since many LH readers won’t be able to access the review, I’ll quote her objections, which I find convincing:

    Herein lies one of the series’ biggest flaws: its failure to accurately portray Soviet relationships of power. […] In Episode 2, for example, the Central Committee member Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) threatens to have Legasov shot if he doesn’t tell him how a nuclear reactor works. There are a lot of people throughout the series who appear to act out of fear of being shot. This is inaccurate: summary executions, or even delayed executions on orders of a single apparatchik, were not a feature of Soviet life after the nineteen-thirties. By and large, Soviet people did what they were told without being threatened with guns or any punishment.

    Similarly repetitive and ridiculous are the many scenes of heroic scientists confronting intransigent bureaucrats by explicitly criticizing the Soviet system of decision-making. In Episode 3, for example, Legasov asks, rhetorically, “Forgive me—maybe I’ve just spent too much time in my lab, or maybe I’m just stupid. Is this really the way it all works? An uninformed, arbitrary decision that will cost who knows how many lives that is made by some apparatchik, some career Party man?” Yes, of course this is the way it works, and, no, he hasn’t been in his lab so long that he didn’t realize that this is how it works. The fact of the matter is, if he didn’t know how it worked, he would never have had a lab.

    Resignation was the defining condition of Soviet life. But resignation is a depressing and untelegenic spectacle. So the creators of “Chernobyl” imagine confrontation where confrontation was unthinkable—and, in doing so, they cross the line from conjuring a fiction to creating a lie. The Belarusian scientist Ulyana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) is even more confrontational than Legasov. “I am a nuclear physicist,” she tells an apparatchik, in Episode 2. “Before you were Deputy Secretary, you worked in a shoe factory.” First, she’d never say this. Second, the apparatchik might have worked at a shoe factory, but, if he was an apparatchik, he was no cobbler; he has come up the Party ladder, which might indeed have begun at the factory—but in an office, not on the factory floor. The apparatchik—or, more accurately, the caricature of the apparatchik—pours himself a glass of vodka from a carafe that sits on his desk and responds, “Yes, I worked in a shoe factory. And now I’m in charge.” He toasts, in what appears to be the middle of the day: “To the workers of the world.” No. No carafe, no vodka in the workplace in front of a hostile stranger, and no boasting “I’m in charge.”

    The biggest fiction in this scene, though, is Khomyuk herself. Unlike other characters, she is made up—according to the closing titles, she represents dozens of scientists who helped Legasov investigate the cause of the disaster. Khomyuk appears to embody every possible Hollywood fantasy. She is a truth-knower: the first time we see her, she is already figuring out that something has gone terribly wrong, and she is grasping it terribly fast, unlike the dense men at the actual scene of the disaster, who seem to need hours to take it in. She is also a truth-seeker: she interviews dozens of people (some of them as they are dying of radiation exposure), digs up a scientific paper that has been censored, and figures out exactly what happened, minute by minute. She also gets herself arrested and then immediately seated at a meeting on the disaster, led by Gorbachev. None of this is possible, and all of it is hackneyed. The problem is not just that Khomyuk is a fiction; it’s that the kind of expert knowledge she represents is a fiction. The Soviet system of propaganda and censorship existed not so much for the purpose of spreading a particular message as for the purpose of making learning impossible, replacing facts with mush, and handing the faceless state a monopoly on defining an ever-shifting reality.

    In the absence of a Chernobyl narrative, the makers of the series have used the outlines of a disaster movie. […] It was the system, made up primarily of pliant men and women, that cut its own corners, ignored its own precautions, and ultimately blew up its own nuclear reactor for no good reason except that this was how things were done. The viewer is invited to fantasize that, if not for Dyatlov, the better men would have done the right thing and the fatal flaw in the reactor, and the system itself, might have remained latent. This is a lie. […] One would think that a vacuum created by lies could be filled by truth. Instead, it is filled by an entirely fictional, fantastical trial at which a large group of people—scientists, we are told—are given an accurate assessment of events in an accessible, brilliant speech, the likes of which Soviet courts didn’t feature.

  13. John Cowan says

    Score is a rather narrow technical term. It excludes songs (though not the use of the human voice as a wordless instrument) as well as all diegetic music, which is music that the characters are (so to speak) actually hearing. These are of course part of the musical soundtrack, but not of the score.

    The Birds is a famous example of a film with no score: all the music is diegetic. American Graffiti is another, not for artistic reasons but because the entire music budget was spent obtaining copyright clearances (there are no Elvis songs in the movie because RCA wanted the moon to license them).

    With that established, scores properly so called that are not original are pretty rare. The famous score for 2001 was originally just something that Kubrick put together as a stopgap for himself, but then he decided he preferred it to Alex North’s original score. North did not know about this until he saw the film at the premiere, and said he was “devastated” not to hear his work. North’s score was re-recorded and released as an album in 1993; the opening piece is said to resemble Also sprach Zarathustra.

  14. Stu Clayton says

    “Yes, I worked in a shoe factory. And now I’m in charge.”

    # The difference is, I’m President, you’re not. #

  15. David Marjanović says

    the purpose of making learning impossible, replacing facts with mush, and handing the faceless state a monopoly on defining an ever-shifting reality

    That sounds familiar…

  16. As I’m sure she intended.

  17. It was the system, made up primarily of pliant men and women, that cut its own corners, ignored its own precautions, and ultimately blew up its own nuclear reactor for no good reason except that this was how things were done.

    But engineers, blinded by facts, keep telling me that nuclear power is safe. Handing over anything complicated to political or market control is never safe.

    But in hindsight we might have been better off taking our chances with nuclear power instead of burning so much coal.

  18. Yes, I’ve reluctantly been coming to that conclusion. Nuclear power is dangerous, but it can be used safely if properly controlled (as seen by the fact that there have been so few accidents); coal and oil are ruining the planet, and there’s no way to use them safely.

  19. John Cowan says

    Especially if it is based on molten-salt thorium.

  20. I’m sure people will find ways to operate a MSBR unsafely, but it does look as if it takes a more concerted effort than for the uranium ones. (The problem with idiot-proof designs is that the idiots are so damn clever).

  21. The thing is that people accept far greater risks every time they get into their damn cars, but they freak out if they hear so much as a hint that one of those spawn-of-Satan nuclear plants might be planned within a thousand miles of them. The human brain is terrible at probability and risk evaluation.

  22. Preach it, brother!

  23. John Cowan says

    As I just posted in another place:

    “The part-time help of wits is no better than the full-time help of half-wits.”

    “Fail-safe systems fail by failing to fail safe.”

  24. Well, it’s not like our only choice is between fossil fuels and nuclear power. And when nuclear power blows up, it does so quite spectacularly, so I wouldn’t want to have a nuclear power plant in my neighbourhood, too.

  25. David Marjanović says

    Also, where do you keep the waste, watertight, for the next thirty thousand years?

  26. Stu Clayton says

    In barrels in salt-cellars.

  27. John Cowan says

    I don’t think I could fit a barrel into my salt-cellars.

    But molten-salt systems with the fuel dissolved in them have a number of real advantages for providing baseline power, the kind you need 24/7, even if the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. They operate at high heat but low pressure, only slightly above ambient, so going boom is not really an option. As the temperature rises above the working temperature of 1400 C, the reaction slows, providing a passive negative feedback loop. If the temperature rises too high anyway, a plug in the bottom of the reactor melts, which allows the molten salt to spread out in a thin layer, making the reaction subcritical. You also don’t have to deal with high-pressure hot water or steam on the radioactive side. They can also be tuned to burn plutonium from spent fuel in conventional reactors, thus making the final waste much lower-level.

    The reason we don’t have them is that they aren’t practical on submarines, so the U.S. Government decided to pass them by.

  28. Oh, I thought it was because they couldn’t be tuned to make weapons-grade fissionables. But same same, really.

  29. David Marjanović says

    In barrels in salt-cellars.

    Not likely to be watertight for that long. At least try clay!

    They can also be tuned to burn plutonium from spent fuel in conventional reactors, thus making the final waste much lower-level.

    That sounds much better.

  30. John Cowan says

    Correct about the weapons-grade fissionables: although a thorium system is or can be a breeder reactor, what it breeds is mostly U-235 which will fission on the spot along with the U-233 that is the dominant fissile component. U-238 is not present, so no new Pu.

    India has much of the world’s thorium and essentially no uranium, so they are working very hard on this, being up to the 500 MWE demonstration plant level. Curiously, monazite thorium ore is a rich source of other rare earth elements, but cannot be mined for them because there is not enough of a market for the radioactive (and poisonous) thorium, which would have to be stored. However, if thorium reactors became common, mining would pay for itself because the byproducts are far more valuable than thorium is. Australia has lots of thorium too, and so does the U.S., though it takes the form of granite and would be hard to get at.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley once asked Randall Garrett (an unlikely pair of friends, but there it is) how to arrange for a nuclear explosion in the San Ysidro plant, purely for novelistic reasons of course. His answer: Have a terrorist smuggle a tac nuke into it.

  31. Marion Zimmer Bradley and Randall Garrett had in common that they were both thoroughly vile individuals.

  32. John Cowan says

    But in very different ways.

  33. David Marjanović says

    rare earth elements

    If India could become a less bloody source for those, that would be awesome.

    Have a terrorist smuggle a tac nuke into it.

    Which reminds me: have the missing suitcase nukes turned up yet?

  34. John Cowan says

    No, but we have no credible evidence one way or another that (a) they even existed or (b) they were actually lost. Five answers on Quora from different points of view.

  35. David Marjanović says

    Oh, tritium as an initiator! In that case, the threat is pretty much over.

    (Four answers. The third of the five is just a copy of the first with an unrelated cartoon added.)

  36. John Cowan says

    Oh, tritium as an initiator!

    If that’s true. If they ever existed at all. The whole idea of “suitcase nukes” could be total disinformation.

  37. Stu Clayton says

    They’re still a thing in the moving pictures.

  38. David Eddyshaw says

    Looking up MZB on WP to find out how she was vile (yep, vile), I discover that there is apparently a Rosicrucian Correspondence Course. I am now trying to locate a Gnostic Summer Camp, and am mystified that there seem to be no Hermetic dating apps for Android. Perhaps only available for iphones?

  39. Stu Clayton says
  40. Owlmirror says

    Link doesn’t.

    Besides: Copenhagen Interpretation Fantasy Camp

  41. Stu Clayton says

    I know. Can’t figure out why.

    Update:The Akamai (?) demons are excising the http attribute !

  42. Owlmirror says

    A-Kismet. It is your fate to be negated.

    Try posting the link inside <code> </code> tags.

  43. Here you go (I assume this is the intended link):

  44. Stu Clayton says

    Ha ha, Kismet tunnels through the <code> and nips the http attribute of <a> as before. I can smuggle a URL in there, but the browser won’t interpret it as a hyperlink:

    The demons sit between the edit field and the final markup.

    Thanx Steve, that was the one.

  45. Owlmirror says

    Getting the URL past the censor as a non-link that could still at least be copied and pasted was what I had in mind.

  46. @Owlmirror: That’s Wigner’s interpretation of quantum mechanics (with, e.g., quantum immortality) illustrated in that comic, not the Copenhagen interpretation.

  47. Stu Clayton says

    It’s about the collapse of the hand-waving function of quantum mechanical explanations, when a little thought (consciousness) is applied. Right ?

  48. Stu Clayton says

    I see quantum physicists as old Mexican ladies making tortillas. They natter on and on to each other, and to anyone who stops to watch, but as long as the tortillas keep coming we can ignore that. Tortillas such as transistors and (maybe) quantum computers that can take elliptic curves at high speed.

  49. Dresden Codak was so much more fun before he went for epic storylines.

Speak Your Mind